Sunday, June 26, 2011

June 27, 2002

It was going to be another hot and steamy day in Boston. The temperature had been in the 90s for several days and I was finding it really hard to keep cool. Complete motionlessness was a good strategy and it was easy to be still now that I was about 3 feet wide and weighed in at 200+ lbs. But on this day I had to get up and go to a doctor’s appointment. I was 40 weeks pregnant and was checking in weekly now with the obstetrician. I wore humongous maternity capri pants and a linen tank top, thinking, absurdly, that the linen would help me keep cool. In reality, nothing keeps you cool when it’s 90 degrees out and you are 9 months pregnant.

At the appointment everything was fine, just like the week before. My doctor reported mysterious numbers and measurements, some percent effaced, some centimeters dilated, numbers that didn’t mean a whole lot at the time and which have faded from my memory now. She asked me if I wanted to schedule an appointment to have labor induced. No, absolutely not, I thought, I really don’t want to induce labor, what I want is for this baby to be cooperative and just pop right out on her own, preferably soon. I had heard only nightmarish stories about being induced, where women lie around in agony for hours upon hours, having really hard, painful contractions without labor progressing much at all. Bleah, who wants that? When we left the doctor’s office, I said I would think about it and call if I wanted to schedule the fun, baby-producing appointment. I remember my doctor offering me this option as if it would be really welcome, as if I would be grateful for the opportunity to organize “give birth to child” neatly into my schedule.

Next on the agenda that day was a trip to Target (we needed laundry detergent) and Home Depot (I have no idea what we needed there). Both were conveniently located at one of those generic shopping centers that exist in every U.S. city, massive, overgrown cubes situated in a row accompanied by a vast stretch of lined asphalt dotted with cart corrals. Under the noon-time sun on a hot day, a parking lot becomes stiflingly hot and a huge pregnant woman trudging across it lugging the largest size bottle of Tide can sweat buckets I’m telling you, buckets of perspiration in the time it takes to waddle from one end (Target) to the other (Hope Depot). Why did I foolishly say to my husband, “Just drop me off at Target. I’ll come find you?” Unable to follow him up and down the “Depot” aisles, still lugging my 20-lb. bottle of Tide, I found a seat and decided to place the call to the OB/GYN to schedule “birth of child.” There was still a chance the baby could come on her own.

Back home, I thought maybe a cool shower would be refreshing after my sauna-like sweat-fest of a morning. The contractions started around this time, about 1:00pm, and it seeemed like a brilliant idea to me to take the timer with me into the shower so that I could bathe and monitor the contractions simultaneously. Who doesn't appreciate multi-tasking? I had been having false contractions for weeks so I really wasn't paying much attention to these ones.  They were very irregular and I was certain they meant nothing (this I deduced from all my previous child-bearing experience). Then (and here’s where any reader who is A) not a woman or B) not a man who has happily fathered a child should just stop reading because I’m going to talk about bodily fluid), suddenly and most undesirably, I kind of felt like I had to pee but I was also having a contraction and it was getting hard to breathe. In my indecision over which bodily urge to pay attention to, I just kind of... uh, let loose. Yep, in the shower, but remember, I’m in the shower AND NINE MONTHS PREGNANT, which is way different than being a normal human being in the shower and releasing what sort of feels like pressure from the bladder area but could also just be pressure from some unidentifiable and previously unknown part of one’s body.

This was when I called to my husband and alerted him to the fact that something very strange was happening to me. He wanted me to exit the shower immediately so we could drive to the hospital but I felt this was being a bit hasty. Instead, I instructed him to please go downstairs and find my folder of meticulously taken notes from childbirth class. I was the only one who ever showed up to childbirth class with a pen. I wrote down as much as I could. Every word out of that nurse’s mouth I attempted to record because I knew that I would most certainly need to reference this essential info in a time of crisis. Obviously, everyone knows that a time of crisis is the perfect time for referring back to instructional notes. Duh.

The husband returned with my notes and fumbled nervously through them until he found the section where we discussed “What to do if your water breaks.” I said to him, read the part out loud where it says what color it should be. He’s freaking out. He can’t read. I can’t understand him. He can’t find the part I’m talking about. I stood there, naked, dripping wet, very, very pregnant (apologies for frightening imagery) and hollering “what color is it if you are going into labor?? Find the part where she talked about the color!” Husband had a better idea. He brought me the phone and told me to call the doctor’s office.

Oh. That is a very good idea. That is way better than my idea to read through pages of notes from childbirth class. I called, spoke with the nurse practitioner and explained what was going on and she said, very slowly and clearly, as if I was a child, “Christen, I want you to hang up the phone and go to the hospital right now.” Well, well. I guess the color is not really a pertinent issue at this juncture.

I was so positive I had tons of time and really, who likes to show up early for the birth of their first child? All that waiting around at the hospital, it can get so tedious and I didn’t want to bother anyone. I wanted to be sure I got there right on time so I could demonstrate how knowledgeable and capable I was. I shuffled around my bedroom with my “list of things to pack for the hospital” while my husband grabbed my duffle bag and ran down to the car. “Wait!” I called to him, “I haven’t checked the list yet!” Next I call my mom at work in Minneapolis. I go through the whole story for her and she, too, urges me to go to the hospital and call her later. Geez, I thought to myself, everyone seems really wound up about this.

The hospital was only a few miles from our house but a few miles in Boston can be an hour-long drive – on a good day. Our route took us around several rotaries. My husband is exceedingly even-tempered. A few things that get him visibly angry include bartenders who pour Guinness wrong and drivers who can't comprehend what the word yield means, particularly as it relates to the rules of proper driving conduct in a traffic rotary. While I sat in the passenger seat calmly breathing through contractions, he was flying around the rotary tipped up on the two right wheels of our car, all the while cursing the other drivers and pounding the steering wheel. It was only when we were within a block of the hospital that I began to feel a little panicky, like I was on a speeding train that was way out of control. I realized that the next time I returned home I’d be toting a tiny baby. A baby!

At the hospital, I had to ask at the information desk what floor to go to if I’m having a baby. I got on the elevator and pressed button number 5. Numerous other hospital patrons also boarded the elevator and between them they pressed buttons number 2, 3, and 4, as well. We stopped at each floor, slowly, while I had contractions and breathed deeply and tried not to draw attention to myself. At the fifth floor, I waddled off and announced to whoever was there to hear me, “I think I’m having a baby.” Nurse Janet Lovely came to my rescue. I have never gotten over how completely unlikely it seemed that her real name could be Janet Lovely. She really was lovely, if only because she knew what the hell to do and I did not.

Martha Alice Dall was born at 4:27pm that afternoon. My mother was confused when I called her to say I had a baby. She couldn’t figure out how I could have accomplished the birth of a child only 3 ½ hours after I called her from home to say we were leaving for the hospital. I guess when Martha heard me scheduling that appointment to induce labor she figured she might as well just come out on her own and do it in a big-ass hurry. It was a move that continues to define her; she doesn’t act until she says it’s time but when she makes up her mind to do something, you better not get in her way.

And here it is, nine years later. Tomorrow we celebrate Martha’s ninth birthday and I, personally, will rejoice that I have gotten her this far. To my charming, utterly mind-blowing daughter, I wish a very happy birthday.


  1. Oh Christen, this is lovely. How wonderful that you can articulate your journey with Martha so eloquently! Have a wonderful day celebrating with your lovely daughter and family. I'll be thinking about you all!

  2. Happy Birthday Martha! I remember the story of that day...congrats to you, you made it year nine!

  3. Your story brings goose bumps to my's so wonderful and authentic! Happy Birthday Martha....and congratulations Christen! Way to go Mom!!
    - Kelly Driver

  4. Happy 9th Birthday Miss Martha!

    We miss you all,
    xoxo m3+b